If you know me, you’ll know that I have an affinity for all things Christmas. From the 11 boxes of decorations I hauled cross- country to the hours of decorating and curating playlists and watching movies, you would think I am in cahoots with the jolly old sugar daddy himself, Santa C. I don’t know why I am Mick-Foley levels obsessed with Christmas, but I have long since learned not to question these things and let them unfold organically, like the slow and steady growth of a pine tree.
Last year I began a Spotify playlist* consisting of Christmas and other winter/holiday inspired songs that were not “mainstream”; that is to say, I don’t want to be rocking out in my car or in the tub to Burl Ives, I want to be singing along to the Cocteau Twins’ version of “Frosty the Snowman”. Recently I posited the “what is your favorite non-mainstream holiday song” question on Twitter, and the results were fantastic. I added every possible suggestion to my list, and it is now almost 20 hours of music to help make your season bright.
As a gift to you, along with this mega-long playlist, I am offering you 12 holiday or holiday- adjacent songs that have been in heavy rotation for me lately. I hope you enjoy these as much as I do (I have included their respective YouTube links for easy listening).
Everyone knows “Holiday Road”, the jaunty bop by rock sex god Lindsey Buckingham and theme to the National Lampoon movies (except the holiday one). Matt Pond PA’s gentle version turns Buckingham’s lament for I dunno, needing a day off?, into a song best enjoyed while sitting in front of a fire as snow slowly drifts outside. The entire Winter Songs EP is beautiful, but I truly love this song best of all.
I am going to admit that I don’t love Sia’s Christmas album, Everyday is Christmas. I mean I like it, but a lot of the songs sound alike and that bugs me a little. But “Ho Ho Ho” bops, because it’s about getting really drunk with your pals (“Come be our family/ This is Christmas, Baby!”) and having fun. She also mentions the Land of Misfits, and if there’s any Christmas entity I would like to get smashed with, it’s King Moonracer. He’s so mysterious!
This is my husband’s favorite Christmas song. It is approximately 45 seconds long and the way Lee Ving sings “Don’t despair/ Just because it’s Christmas” as if he is in the Trans- Siberian Orchestra absolutely kills me. It’s a quick punk rock addition to your holiday fare, something to shock the grandparents with. Of course, it’ll be over before they realize what’s happening—isn’t that the greatest Christmas miracle of all?
Have you ever thought to yourself, I wish there were a ballad about a man running to pick up some stuff, presumably leaving his entire family behind on Christmas Eve on the quest for like, butter, and smashing into his ex-lover, who he then proceeds to drink beer with in his car as they talk about their lives and how she hates her husband even though he seems pretty ok**? Well, this song is for you! This is probably the most mainstream song on this list, as it’s a radio staple, but whenever I talk about it people look at me like I don’t love my architect husband anymore and am sitting in the car of a man I used to bone on arguably the most important holiday evening of the year, boozing it up and complaining about it. Drink a toast to innocence, baby, and crank this one up to eleven!
Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race will recognize this iconic drag superstar, and here she is reimagining one of the most well-loved Christmas anthems of all time in a relatable way. “I don’t want them dark and blurry/ taken on your iPhone 3” she laments… “I won’t ask for drugs for Christmas/ I won’t even ask for blow.” Sometimes all you want is a naughty message from someone you don’t have any intention of meeting in real life, and in these dark and dreary times, that’s perfectly ok.
I am not a very religious person, but Christmas always brings out a slightly spiritual side to me, and this is probably my favorite traditional carol. And if there is anything that gets me all hot and heavy, it’s songs where the singers have breathy voices. I never really got into The Civil Wars, but Joy Williams and John Paul White SOUND so good here, even if they’re singing about Christianity. Which I admit fills me with some conflicting emotions.
This song is not available on Spotify, which stinks, and it’s almost impossible to suss out some of the lyrics (“Come sit with killers???/ lighthouses full????”), but this song definitely puts me back to 1996, being 15 and trudging through the snow to my friend’s house. He has since passed, so the lines “I love you in this long black sleep… as we are together/ once again/ happy and free” really mean something to me more now than they did then. Remember being lost in Christmas Day? To be young again, really.
In this household, Dolly Parton is queen supreme: she’s even in a framed photo above my daughter’s crib. There are plenty holiday related Dolly songs to choose from, but this year, why not partake in “Hard Candy Christmas”, a song that isn’t really even about Christmas except it mentions it once in the chorus? I guess a Hard Candy Christmas is a Christmas where the only gifts are penny-candy, and Dolly here is considering her options (“maybe I’ll sleep real late/ maybe I’ll lose some weight) in her relatable and angelic way. Christmas songs don’t always have to be fun (see the next entry for more on this), and I’d listen to Dolly sing the obituaries to be honest.
Listen. I do not get out of bed on Christmas morning until I listen to this song in its entirety. For a long time I used to cite “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues as the perfect Christmas song to encapsulate the human condition, but now I think it’s “Red Water”. It has everything: allusions to traditional carols, lamentations of friends and family who have since passed on, Peter Steele sounding all breathy (we have already established that I enjoy that kind of thing). “Oh, mistletoe/ I’m seeing ghosts”, he says, and this previously majorly depressed gal would not even think of starting the coffeepot before listening to it. I am not as depressed anymore, but traditions are traditions.
I grew up Catholic and was not exposed to many other religions as a child, but my earliest introduction to Judaism was via Peter Paul and Mary’s Holiday Celebration album. PPM is a Pammy Carney staple (that’s my mom), and “Hayo Haya” is probably the most moving song from the entire concert. Because of this song, I went on to learn more about Chanukah and the Jewish faith and learning about other religions is never a bad thing. Also, I was like, seven. It is a travesty that this album is not readily available (damn you Spotify!) but I recently acquired a vinyl of it, and it has been playing a lot in the ole Carney Hoepfner household!
McPherson’s Christmas album, also called Socks, is incredible. It’s got that retro rock sound that will have you dancing around your tree with a highball glass of eggnog in no time. But “Socks” is by far the best song on the album, which is probably why he named it that. “Socks” says what every child is thinking, in their heart, when they open a gift only to see the most cursed of gifts: What the fuck? “It doesn’t beep or buzz or bop or rattle in a box/ why’d you waste the paper on a lousy pair of socks?” But don’t worry, because our protagonist has his ultimate revenge in the end: “And next time when old Santa comes/ the evening’s getting late/ instead of milk and cookies/ I will leave upon his plate” …you guessed it.
This song gets stuck in my head a lot during the year, and countless people have covered it, but this is my favorite version. It posits the timeless question: what are you doing New Year’s Eve?
Let me tell you a personal story: two years ago, my husband and I decided we wanted to add to our family, and because of that we realized we would have to be a bit more frugal. That New Years we decided to splurge and spent the night in Morro Bay, CA, eating a four-course meal, drinking a LOT of alcohol, watching fireworks over the ocean as a live band rang in 2018. This is my most favorite memory of a holiday with him, and whenever I hear this song I think back to that night and how magical it was. We most likely will not be spending another New Years like that in a long time.
It is my hope that you listen to this song and think back to your very best New Year’s Eve and smile at the memory.
Happy holidays from me to you! And if you have a music suggestion for me, feel free to send me a tweet!
*Unfortunately, not everything I want to add is available on Spotify, including the compilation O Come All Ye Faithful: Rock for Choice and the Peter Paul and Mary Holiday Celebration.
**A few years ago, the woman this song is about came forward. Can you imagine
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Kolleen Carney Hoepfner’s poetry and other writings can be found in Lammegeier, Connotation Press, and elsewhere. Kolleen serves as Editor in Chief of Drunk Monkeys. She is the author of Your Hand Has Fixed the Firmament (Grey Book Press) and A Live Thing, Clinging with Many Teeth (Spooky Girlfriend Press). Her main goal in life is to have Alec Baldwin smile at her. She lives in Burbank, California, with her husband and children.
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